Redevelopment renews downtown Saskatoon

Sensitive planning preserves the soul of urban renewal in old Riversdale
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
By Rebecca Melnyk

Saskatoon merchants foresee something of a return to the past in a $40-million multi-use urban renewal project called The Banks, now underway in the city’s downtown Riversdale neighbourhood.

Randy Pshebylo, executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement Area reflects on his youth when he could leave his bike on the sidewalk while he watched a movie at a local theatre.

Since then, he has watched the area decline, as vacant storefronts, rundown bars and soup kitchens have slowly gained ground over the past twenty years.

“It’s a longstanding community that’s been allowed to slip, where conditions were tolerated,” says Pshebylo, adding, “until few of us said this isn’t the neighbourhood we grew up in.”

As the community attempted to attract a new demographic of young people unfamiliar with the negative reputation of the past, and investments were made in quality affordable housing, local schools and the waterfront, proposed building developments for the parking lot west of a farmers market near 20th Street—the main commercial corridor—soon followed.

But proposals didn’t actually materialize until recently when The Banks broke ground in August.

“There was a lot of waiting for that domino to fall, and now it’s starting to fall,” says Pshebylo. ”The Banks is helping us overcome that negative perception and move back to an average neighbourhood.” New businesses are looking to build in the area, while a local gallery is under construction.

However, with the promise of such urban rejuvenation is a concern for the former aesthetic of the old neighbourhood, long before it grew into a crime-ridden area.

“One of the fears that we’ve had is someone taking the property near the river, which is highly desirable, and creating a structure that would potentially turn its back on the rest of the district,” says Pshebylo, adding, that so far that hasn’t been the case.

The Banks, developed by Chris Le Fevre, a partner in the 1970’s regeneration of Vancouver’s Gastown, along wth Joost Bakker, project architect from DIALOG who was involved in designing Vancouver’s Granville Island and Toronto’s St Lawrence Market, have prioritized sensitive planning over an enclosed and elitist design.

“There’s an intense amount of thought that’s gone into the design, development and courtyard—the flow of space,” says Le Fevre. “It would have been easy to put up a couple of standard blocks. Tempting economically, but not in terms of the challenge of doing something that is progressive and what I believe is right.”

Instead of building one giant development, the team decided to break the structure into four four-storey buildings offering a mix of 150 residential units and ground commercial space. The buildings will invite the community inside by way of open courtyards which spill out into the sidewalk.

“We didn’t want to make something that stood out, but instead added to the local neighbourhood,” says Bakker. “Some ideas were that the architectural character is sympathetic with what’s going on in the neighbourhood.”

On Avenue C, west of the future development, small homes more than 100 years old still stand, each painted a different colour. Keeping this in mind, the team, added a whole series of townhomes to the project that will also feature an array of colours.

The internal walkway will lead to the popular farmers’ market that Bakker hopes will be of influence to nearby shops that might complement the food.

To welcome a broad population, from young professionals to an older generation looking to downsize, the average price for a bachelor apartment is $200,000, with larger units not tipping over the $500,000 mark.

Pshebylo says even though zoning guidelines restrict building height on The Banks site, the needs of the community have been integral to Le Fevre and Bakker’s vision.

“They didn’t have to do what they’re doing,” says Pshebylo. “They’re building a place that for us is key because as a business group that’s what we’ve always envisioned—the river linking 20th Street, an area where people can sit down to enjoy a coffee, browse shops or listen to an outdoor concert.”

The Banks is expected to be completed by 2016.

Rebecca Melnyk is online editor of Canadian Property Management and Building Strategies & Sustainability .








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